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Michael Eidson, 06 Jan '13

Garbus slammed his hand on the table and lifted it to reveal some flat glittering objects worked with engraved images of bugs. "You're nothing but a braggart. I'll wager you five gold beetles you can't build a bridge over the Mhoraz River in only one day."

"Only five gold beetles?" retorted Horam, stuffing a swollen fist into his coin pouch. He pulled an even more swollen fist out and held it over the table. As he loosened his grip, coins fell in a stream on the table. Using one finger, he moved them from one side of the table to the other, counting them. "How about nineteen beetles?" He reached in his pouch and then dropped one more coin on the table. "Make it an even twenty."

"I don't have twenty beetles," said Garbus. "I only have five."

"I'm not placing a wager for only five beetles." Horam raked his coins back to his edge of the table and began transferring them back to his pouch. "It's not worth the bother."

Garbus made a noise often referred to as a harumph. "Because you know you'll lose. No one can build a bridge that quickly, not even a wizard. And you're no wizard."

Horam ran his hands over his head as though to slick back the hair he didn't have. "I don't need magic to build a bridge that quickly. You want to see it, you put down twenty beetles. Otherwise, shut yer trap."

The tavern had grown quiet. Garbus looked around. All eyes were on him. He rose, stepped away from the table, lifted his arms and head like a barker at a fair and shouted, "What you staring at? You got any money? Come and put it down, and let's see this fool build a bridge over the Mhoraz River in one day without any magic. Well? Come on. I've got five beetles says he can't do it. Who's got fifteen more?"

By the time everyone in the tavern got in on the action, Garbus had three hundred and twenty seven gold beetles to wager against Horam, and Horam eagerly matched it all with an equal wager. Garbus pulled out his chair and put a foot on the seat. "Well then, braggart, how shall we do this?"

Still seated, Horam finished his ale and stared into the empty mug. "I will need some time to collect the materials I need. None of them will be magic. You can come along if you like, to make sure I don't pick up anything magical. Then within seven days from today, I'll build you a bridge over the Mhoraz River with the materials I've picked up by then. I'll do it all myself, with no help from anyone else. And you'll be able to walk across it when I'm done."

Garbus shook his head. "I can't be missing work for seven days. You gather your materials and come back here. We'll have a wizard check the stuff for magic. Then you can build your bridge here."

The mug went thunk as Horam set it down. He waved the barmaid over, and she swapped his empty mug for a full one. Horam chugged down half of it before replying. "I'm not saying I'll be building the bridge that close to Mhoraz. I'm just saying I can build it across the river. I get to pick the spot."

There followed some excited discussions amongst those who had contributed to the wager against Horam. Finally Garbus turned to face Horam, who still sat and contemplated his drink. Garbus nodded. "All right. Mekkanar will go with you. He isn't involved in the wager and he doesn't have a job to keep him here. He'll carry a charm to detect for magic."

"Very well." Horam downed the other half of his drink and gently lowered the empty mug on the oak tabletop. "Mekkanar will watch as I gather my materials. I will pick the place to build the bridge, and once I start I will l have 24 hours to finish. The bridge will support one person walking across it without getting wet. Mekkanar will observe and report to you. If he reports that I was successful, then I win the wager. If he reports that I failed, then you win the wager."

There ensued more excited discussions. Garbus chuckled. "There are some further restrictions."

Horam leaned back in his chair. "Yes?"

"You can't build your bridge over the narrow mouth of the Mhoraz River. You have to build it in Ahazir. It can't be in Blegutten."

The brawny bald man smiled. "Of course."

Garbus held up a finger. "And...you can't enchant Mekkanar to report falsely."

Horam's smile faded. "Oh, but you take all of the fun out of it. Nevertheless, I agree, though I have my conditions. When I return, you will have a wizard ask Mekkanar whether I built a bridge over the Mhoraz River in one day without magical items or help. The wizard will determine if Mekkanar speaks the truth. Nothing else will be asked of Mekkanar regarding how I accomplish the feat. Ever."

After more heated discussion, Garbus turned back to Horam. "Agreed."

~

Five days later, Horam and Mekkanar returned to the tavern. News carried fast, and shortly Garbus arrived, with the wizard Octavo Rocano in tow. Octavo got right to work. "Stand here, Mekkanar, and stick out your tongue." The young man did so, showing a red one with patchy white spots. "Say nothing until I ask you a question. This spell will detect whether you speak truth. If you lie, your tongue will turn blue."

Mekkanar nodded.

Octavo gestured and chanted and threw dust in the air. He walked around Mekkanar and waved his staff. Then he stopped in front of Mekkanar and looked straight into the young man's bugging, innocent eyes. "Did Horam build a bridge over the Mhoraz River in less than 24 hours, without magical items or assistance, a bridge that a man could walk across without getting wet?"

"Yes," said Mekkanar. He stuck out his tongue. It was still red and patchy white.

Horam smiled as he raked three hundred and twenty seven gold beetles into a bag he'd brought just for the occasion. He gave twenty seven gold beetles to Mekkanar for his trouble. Then Horam left Mhoraz and was not seen again in those parts.

~

Garbus followed Mekkanar when the young man left the tavern. "I can't ask you how he did it, I said I wouldn't, but there's nothing to stop you from telling of your own free will."

Mekkanar frowned. "It was pretty stupid, really."

Garbus tapped his foot and crossed his arms.

"You won't like the answer."

More foot tapping.

"I couldn't lie about it, Garbus. The wizard's spell made me tell the truth. But what Horam did was foolishness."

"I'm not asking you to tell me," said Garbus, "but I'm about to strangle you."

"It was just a small bridge, but it was definitely a bridge. I mean, it looked exactly like a bridge, and you could walk on it and everything."

"If it was a small bridge," Garbus said, feeling sick, "how did it stretch all the way across the Mhoraz River?"

"Oh, it didn't stretch across the river. As Horam pointed out to me, he never said he'd build a bridge 'across' the Mhoraz River. He said he'd build one 'over' it."

"And how did he do that?"

"He built it on the deck of a ship."

Comments · 4

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  • Michael Eidson said...

    I thought it was about time to write another burst. I've been so busy working on my debut fantasy novel, The Unfinished Tower, I've not wanted to take time to write a short story. I really didn't know where I was going with this story when I started writing it, but that's the point of these bursts, eh. I hope someone gets a kick out of it. It's all about semantics.

    • Posted 4 years ago
  • Michael Eidson said...

    I'll also point out that this story is set in my fictional world of Yurik, not Pharas. This doesn't mean much to anyone but me at this point, but my profile says I'm setting my bursts in Pharas. So I'm just clearing it up, for future reference, when I have more stories out there that might mention the Mhoraz River or the countries of Ahazir or Blegutten.

    • Posted 4 years ago
  • Alex Houghton said...

    Haha, fun story. I picked one out to read at random and wasn't disappointed! Reading this felt like reading one of those old stories about trickster characters and the mischief they cause.

    • Posted 4 years ago
  • Michael Eidson said...

    Thanks, Alex.

    The story depends on the words "across" and "over," and I noticed just now while re-reading my burst that I inadvertently wrote "across" in one place where it should have been "over." That's what comes of writing and not editing. Oh well. I tried to edit the burst just now, but it won't let me. Hopefully no one will chew me up and spit me out for that mistake.

    • Posted 4 years ago